One of the several things that I really like about where I live is that people say hello to you in the street. People you don’t know. Strangers.

I live in a small town – it would be considered a village in my native country – in the west of Ireland. It’s quite normal to say hello, smile, nod or exchange a view on the weather with people you don’t know a few times during a walk through the town. I really like it.

People are familiar with the friendly welcome of the Irish – cead mile failte, or a hundred thousand welcomes and all that – but I suspect you get this level of friendliness in all small places.

You don’t get this in a big city, at least in not a single one I’ve ever been to, and I’ve probably only been to a couple hundred in my life. People don’t make eye contact, their body language is self-protecting, they avoid making any kind of acknowledgement of your presence. Maybe this is because it feels like everything is transient, unsafe, or unfamiliar in a seething population, but to me it’s a pity. We’re social animals after all, and interaction with fellow humans improves our mood, most of the time.

Next time you’re out and about in a city, try saying hello to a couple of passers-by. Better still, when you’re in a city with an underground system, strike up a conversation with someone across from you, across the central walkway I call ‘the well of souls’. The looks you get can be hilarious:

‘What are you doing, talking to me? You’re breaking the code!”

‘What code?’

‘The unwritten code of the city. No talking to anyone you don’t know. Loser!’

Give me the kindness of strangers in small places any time.

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